Sexual Assault Myths & Title IX: Why Coffey Must Resign
Issue   |   Wed, 02/27/2013 - 18:54

In her letter to the editor last week, Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey wrote a piece that not only lacked reasonable argumentation, but also revealed opinions on rape culture that should not, and cannot, be held by someone who chairs the Title IX Committee.

Two weeks ago, Professor Dumm said that there might exist a connection between male athletics and rape culture and said it may be worthwhile to have an investigation of this possible connection. Coffey’s response tries to deny this connection is even possible, providing a rebuttal denying the connection between male athletics and rape culture.
The first point she makes is that singling out a group on campus for having an outsized risk of committing sexual assault is prejudiced, and you couldn’t say this about [insert minority group here].

First of all, in no way, shape or form are athletes an oppressed group, either on this campus or anywhere in the U.S. There is no comparing the constant struggle that many minority groups go through for basic civil and human rights to the “struggles” of athletes at the College. To say so is to diminish the constant fight of these minority groups. Additionally, there is a selection argument that Coffey fails to acknowledge; while no one chooses their sexual orientation or skin color, athletes choose to be an athlete every day they go to practice. The comparison between the two groups is simply not applicable.
The second point she makes is that Professor Dumm’s assertions cannot be true, because athletes are going to graduate school/campus leaders/musicians/doing community service/ good at athletics/good at academics/etc..

Mrs. Coffey says that “either Mr. Dumm doesn’t know anything about our students who play sports at Amherst, or if he does, he chooses to ignore any facts that might impede his vituperative attack.” Here is a list of facts (facts!) that Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Coffey believes make you less likely to be someone who commits sexual assault. If you are going to law school, medical school, graduate school or Teach for America, you are less likely to commit sexual assault. If you are a campus or community leader, an accomplished athlete, a musician, an actor, a writer or you do community service, Suzanne Coffey has good news ­­— you are less likely to commit sexual assault.

This is exactly the sort of bias we as a community have been fighting so hard against all year, and yet Coffey shows that she has learned nothing from our past semester of crisis. If it is not clear to you what effect one’s ability to get into law school/shoot free throws/play an instrument has on the likelihood one will commit an act of sexual violence, then you are not alone. I heard many different reasons last semester why people commit sexual assaults (a lack of respect for human decency, a desire for power over other people, etc.), and while I do not claim to know the answer, certainly none of the things Coffey mentioned were even discussed as possibilities.

Apparently, however, Title IX Coordinator Susanne Coffey believes that people who are intelligent or going to work for Teach for America make are less likely to commit acts of sexual assault, which I find to be remarkably revealing and somewhat terrifying. Most of the evidence in her article is a continuous list of socially worthy activities that athletes participate in, which is supposed to provide support to the idea that athletes do not contribute to sexual assault on campus. It’s a dangerous, wrong-headed argument, as it serves to reduce sexual assault to only something that “bad” people do. I am deeply concerned that our Athletic Director and Title IX Coordinator believes something that is so patently and undeniably untrue, especially about an issue as important as sexual assault. Her ideas are not dangerous merely because they are untrue, but because of the danger inherent in reducing sexual assault to something that is not endemic of certain cultural attributes or inherent lack of respect for other people, but rather the domain of the social deviants. This line of argumentation only serves to hide sexual assault in the shadows.

Given all that we as a campus have been through over the past semester, it is untenable that our leader on compliance with Title IX holds such views. It is unfortunate that we had a member of the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct who held such obviously biased and absolutely incorrect view on the causes of sexual assault. If the College wishes to retain credibility on the issue of sexual assault, Suzanne Coffey can no longer be our Title IX coordinator.

JKoo'12 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 20:15

Thank you, Chris, for taking the time to write this.

It is stunning to me how many members of the Amherst community are leaping to defend the concept of athletics in general against Prof. Dumm's ham-handed swipe as though citing examples of athletes who go on to become leaders and model citizens does anything to address the stereotypes that they complain about. The focus on that aspect of Prof. Dumm's article by individuals like Suzanne Coffey, if anything, serves to reinforce such stereotypes, that athletes perpetuate the acceptance of the rape myths mentioned in this article.

Can you imagine reporting a sexual assault involving an athlete to a Title IX Coordinator who stands behind the notion that an athlete going on to a bright future is not going to be involved in sexual misconduct? To be clear, I am not convinced that athletes are responsible for a greater number of sexual assaults (while others have claimed most of the rapists they know are athletes, only one out of the five that I knew at Amherst was related to athletics in any way). However, Amherst College's Athletic Director and Title IX Coordinator has shown through her ignorant response that such stereotypes are unlikely to be dispelled. Quite the contrary, they will be reinforced by the repeated deflection of legitimate concerns that ultimately only serve to perpetuate rape myths.

Coffey's letter revealed a biased perspective and clear conflict of interest. She is not fit to serve as the College's Title IX coordinator--and frankly, not as the College's Athletic Director either if she holds such grossly incorrect views of sexual misconduct. To try to dispel the stereotypes, Amherst's athletes will most certainly need a better program director and more importantly, a better way of responding to the stereotypes than citing rape myths and resumes.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:07

You are twisting her words.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:10

"No. You are twisting her words."

Great post right here. Thanks for the incredibly valuable insight, detective.

Nica Siegel '14 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:11

Thank you for this article, Chris. I want to point out that for those of us who watched the events leading up to Gretchen Krull's resignation, there are obvious parallels to Suzanne Coffey's current position. Gretchen, questions of maliciousness or incompetence aside (in fact for years, she was the person who cared most about the survivor community at Amherst) represented a kind of special interest on the emotional support side of victim and survivor support, meaning that for years, when Amherst was even less equipped to support survivors through the disciplinary process than it is now, Gretchen had a legitimate interest in reminding students that it might be better for their mental health not to go through a hearing when the potential payoffs were so incredibly low. Then Gretchen became an administrator and her responsibilities decisively changed--under no circumstance should she have encouraged anyone not to report for any reason. Eventually, these two roles conflicted, and her dual role allowed her discretion that was the source of pretty much everything for which she was later criticized. Arguably she was put in an impossible position, wearing too many conflicting hats within an ever changing structure. The same exact situation is unfolding with Suzanne Coffey--she has a vested interest in keeping well entrenched, if not growing, athletic culture at Amherst, which to a large extent is appropriate to her position as Athletic Coordinator (although aspects of her editorial were, as Chris says, irredeemably bad), but has obvious potential to conflict with her role as Title IX Coordinator. For those who don't know the law well, Title IX is largely a gender discrimination law, and so its common for athletic administrators to be involved in its implementation and practice, but even so, this situation is no longer sustainable. Certainly Suzanne Coffey should not continue to hold both positions--this was clear to anyone paying attention even before her editorial. This again has little to do necessarily with malicious intentions and more to do with the number of interests one person can be expected to juggle. This is the argument I'd been making before Coffey's editorial. However, after the thoughtlessness of her response, though, I'm inclined to agree with Chris that she ought not represent Amherst at all.

Meghna (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:19

You know there's some messed up power dynamics at Amherst and with the administration when students can point out basic points (athletes are not oppressed groups! You can rape someone AND teach for America!) which administrators and even professors seem to ignore or outright deny. I refuse to believe they don't see these obvious points--which makes it even more worrying that they chose to ignore or deny them in this way.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:33

Title IX is the real problem.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:21

There's definitely a conflict of interest here. Just based on that, I'd say Coffey cannot be both the athletic director and the Title IX director at Amherst. However, in light of her outrageous defense of athletes (and dismissal of rape victims), I think she should resign.

Note: I was an athlete when I was at Amherst. I have no problem whatsoever with athletics at Amherst. However, I think that in light of the crisis in which Amherst finds itself, certain groups should be examined. Worst case: they won't find any link between athletic culture and rape and then the matter will be settled. There won't be any doubts and we can move on to find the real answers. But let's definitively determine that so that we do justice to the survivors out there.

Risalat Khan '13 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:22

This is simply an earnest request to people to put their names behind their words. Replying anonymously to an article (written by someone publicly) and not offering anything constructive impedes an honest discussion of the serious issues at hand. We are all adults here; we should be able to make our reasonable arguments heard and debated without resorting to name-calling or absurdities.

Great article, Friend.

NARP '15 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:24

You're points are excellent, Chris.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:34

Thank you very much. This is enlightening. Amherst should begin communicating with different schools in the NESCAC and see how these conversations are held there to bring some of these ideas to the 'herst. It's unfortunate Amherst has been getting so much negative press lately--not saying it shouldn't--but the school can be a much better institution if it begins the steps towards ameliorating these situations.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:16

Does anyone notice how on all of the Title IX things she is referred to as the Title IX Coordinator, but she signed her letter to the editor as the Director of Athletics?

Most definitely a conflict of interest....

'14 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:47

Thanks for taking the time to write this.

Dan '16 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:57

I'm an athlete. Can you please tell me how many people I sexually assaulted because you clearly know more than I do
You are just so insightful. I never would've known that athletes aren't an oppressed group if it wasn't for you (even though that wasn't the point Mrs. Coffey was trying to make at all). Your ability to skew someone's words in order to support your absurd, misguided, and misinformed argument truly shows your critical thinking and journalistic abilities. Congrats on further isolating and disrespecting 100's of hardworking, honest, and respectful members of what I THOUGHT was a community

Matt (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 01:49

Dan, I'm sorry, but your comment is not responding to what Chris *actually* said. It's responding based on your natural (and completely understandable) defensive reaction. This reaction is so intuitive, you don't even realize that it's wrong. Again, not your fault.

The best thing you could do is to email Chris and ask to talk to him about it. Don't let animosity breed. You should talk it over with him, and I bet you both could learn a lot from each other about this issue. Or, email me. I'm very open to talking about these sorts of things, and I find there are few athletes in my friend circles to discuss it with.

anon'12 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 08:39

Dan'16 needs a tissue. There is a pattern and relationship in our association with sports nationwide (news about Duke rapists, Sandusky, Colby Bryant etc.) and sexual assault, not just @ AC. Chris hasn't twisted any words but if Coffey doesn't understand how her words were going to be interpreted then she needs to learn a thing or two about race, victim blaming, women's rights, history etc. I'm tired of all these white people causing a fuss about things they clearly don't understand, and then compare their sad story to real struggle of oppressed groups.

Anon '11 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 10:14

"Duke rapists." You mean the Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of assault and then dragged through the mud by society because of assumptions about them from race, class, and gender?

Yeah, that's probably not a story you want to mention there bro.

And I'm not an athlete by the way--I was the nerdiest dweeboid you can imagine. But I don't like ignorance.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 02:24

All I know is that after Prof Dumm's article, I get dirty looks every time I wear my team's sweatshirt in Val. Someone came up to me TONIGHT and said "Didn't know ____ players came to the library". You're right, random person. Usually I don't have time to go to the library when I'm raping everything that has a pulse out on the Freshmen Quad. Ms. Coffey wasn't comparing what we athletes are going through to African-Americans fighting for civil rights back in the 50s like Chris is saying. She's just comparing the idiocy behind pointing at a group and saying "They're probably the rapists because they lift weights and have testosterone flying around as part of their daily routine." Being an athlete is a choice, but should I feel guilty about it? It's like your saying "Well if this accusation against athletes is unfair, why don't they just give up their sport?" That's not a choice when you've been doing it all your life. In that way it is very much like race or sexual orientation. Being an athlete is what got me into this school. Being an athlete carries more weight for who I am as a person than any other part of my identity. And being an athlete shouldn't be something I feel ashamed of. You know why we do what we do? You think it's for personal gain? How many Amherst athletes are going pro? Probably 0. We play for you. We play for our school. The school ALL OF US call home. I'm actually embarrassed and truly, deeply saddened that people are trying to alienate us. Think about us as your classmates and stop crusading around like your making Amherst a better place by pointing fingers. We don't need finger pointers. We need hand raisers. People who are going to provide solutions and not scapegoats. We'll try to be better people, but our efforts are useless if you're unwilling to accept them. We're trying to change. Now it's your turn.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 16:15

This point has been mentioned so many times that I can't believe I have to clarify it again, but NOBODY is trying to use athletes as a scapegoat, nobody anywhere ever has argued that if we make athletes give up their sports rape culture will go away. Nor has anybody argued that individual athletes are at fault. Rather, the argument is that certain aspects of athletic culture ought to be part of a long list of factors that we as a campus should look into regarding an unsafe/threatening environment for women at Amherst College. And that's not even what this article is about. This article is about Suzanne Coffey and her role as our Title IX coordinator being at odds with her archaic views on sexual harrassment.

Also, no, being an athlete is not comparable to being a member of an oppressed racial group. Just...... no

athlete (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 11:12

I'm an athlete and there is a culture of disrespect towards women, minorities, and the LGBT population. this article does not claim that every single athlete is a rapist. It simple states that this culture within athletics exists and is tolerated. So before any more athletes get offended, think before you react. We athletes should be ashamed that we let this continue, at any level. Not all athletes are rapists, but we sure do contribute to an environment that fosters rape.

Anon (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 18:55

The Duke lacrosse players whose were unjustly vilified just settled their case. I wonder if the settlement with all 38 players will come out of Duke's endowment or from Duke's insurance policy? I would imagine the premiums on that policy will sky rocket. Note in the comment section that no one has forgotten the 88 professors so willing to throw these students civil rights under the bus to support their skewed view.
If the articles published by the Amherst Student and the comments thereto are any indicator, it is quite apparent that male athletes are stereotyped and discriminated against. For all the commentators who hold these stereotyped views, just don't include the athletes in your life. Don't hook up with them, don't party with them, don't study with them, don't invite them to your parties, outings or formals.

Anonymous '16 (not verified) says:
Tue, 02/04/2014 - 00:05

Dear Chris,

While I understand your article had good intentions, there seemed to be a lack of objectivity that you seem to expect from everyone else.

In your very first point that you make about her comments regarding prejudice, you swap words on a whim and start using oppression. Here are the two definitions from Merriam-Webster:

Prejudice: a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
Oppression: a : unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power

While there appears to be a great difference between these words, you seem to toss this difference out in order to serve your anti-athletic needs. I do not doubt that there is a difference between the prejudice faced by athletes and the oppression faced by other minorities, but there is a reason why Suzanne employed prejudice and not oppression.

I believe what Suzanne Coffey was attempting to articulate in her article was that because the majority of student athletes are involved in so many other positions of leadership on campus (graduate school/campus leaders/musicians/doing community service, as you said), they transcend the boundaries of simply being considered jocks. They are no longer just male athletes, but rather male students of Amherst. Because male athletes pervade all aspects of campus life, and in many cases contribute to Amherst more than other students, it is unfair to label male athletic culture as the main culprit, especially when it seems clear that rape is a worldwide phenomenon that is perpetrated by people from all cultures.

Athletes Everywhere

Camille (not verified) says:
Tue, 02/04/2014 - 13:30

You make the point of an athlete "choosing" to be an athlete. Is that not the same as a muslim "choosing" that religion? Does that mean I am allowed to make judgmental, offensive, untrue statements about muslims as a whole because they choose to follow that lifestyle? I hope that any "open-minded" student at Amherst would see that inherent wrongness of that.